I was walking to my car parked on a side street downtown when my eye fell on an old familiar acquaintance from my early childhood.. It was the Steinway logo over the door of the new Steinway and Sons showroom, recently added to the local merchant roster.
I have been intimate with the Steinway logo ever since my mother inherited a beautiful mahogany Steinway grand (model M) from her step-father, who had owned the Steinway dealership in Salt Lake City, Utah. The piano had been personally autographed by the then-president of Steinway and Sons, Theodore Steinway. (According to family lore, this was because Mrs. Daynes wanted to prevent her husband’s selling the piano right out of her living room, as he had been known to do.) We had to buy a new house in order to accommodate the piano, as it refused to fit in our compact living room. (I gained a new sister at about the time the piano arrived, which probably influenced the move also.)
As a child the piano was my fort, my cave, my favorite retreat. I was quite familiar with all the small nooks and crannies visible only from the underside, so imagine my glee when one day I poked a toy into one of my accustomed hiding places and found something else hidden there. I bounced out from under the piano caroling “Mommy! Mommy! I found money hidden in the piano!” My mother turned white, then red. She had been entrusted with some cash from a school fund-raiser and had thought she had found the perfect hiding place. Her security had lasted only about forty minutes.
Later I was not on such good terms with the Steinway. My parents felt that with such an instrument in the family, someone must learn to play it, and the choice settled on me. I suspect my older brother, whose long fingers were much better suited to the task than my short stubby ones, simply made himself scarce at any time when the subject of piano lessons was mentioned. I wasn’t as agile, so I was sentenced to a weekly pilgrimage to the home of Mrs. Knox, a few blocks away, plus daily practice.
It wasn’t so bad at first, learning scales and simple tunes which I could memorize and play back without having to practice very much. But then we got to two hands, and the need for coordination overwhelmed my ability to fake being able to read the music. By the time I was ten I was weeping at the keyboard, and Mrs. Knox regretfully told my mother that as I seemed to have neither talent nor inclination to practice, I had better stop taking lessons.
Fortunately, that little sister I mentioned was just getting to the age where she invited comparisons to Shirley Temple, and she loved to perform. I gratefully handed over the practice time to her.
The Steinway is still in Mom’s living room, not used much now that my sister is married and away. But I do have three long-fingered grand-children, each of whom has embarked on piano lessons. I’m hoping the Steinway will be a family member for a long time to come.